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The Buildings We Love to Photograph at Night, Based on 10 Million Photos

Date Published: 13th November 2023

Category Study & Research

Author: Robyn

Beautiful Buildings at Night

Architecture never sleeps. The best-designed homes and hotels keep us warm, comfortable and safe through the night. At the same time, retail and office buildings are constructed to conserve energy and maintain security beyond business hours.

Meanwhile, some of the world's most imaginatively constructed buildings positively glow after dark. Designed with public perception in mind, the angles, lighting and materials are chosen partly for their effect on passers-by when the sun's gone down. The particularly photogenic ones get snapped over and over again, becoming Instagram superstars in their own right.

There's something incredibly alluring about a handsome building photographed at night, something that makes it memorable and alive and which encourages people to visit. However, since daytime architectural photography is the "norm," buildings that become most striking at night-time are perhaps less likely to win the recognition they deserve. So, we decided to uncover architecture's sleeper hits: the buildings around the world that people are most likely to photograph at night.

What We Did

Buildworld analysed the metadata on over 10 million photos on Flickr to identify the famous buildings with the highest percentage of pictures tagged "night." We ranked 6,000 of the world's most iconic buildings using the number of tagged photos per 1,000 photos of that building on the site. We organised our findings globally and within North America, Europe, the UK and Asia, respectively.

Key Findings

  • The Markthal in Rotterdam, Netherlands, is the building we most love to photograph at night, with 370 photos per 1,000 taken after dark.
  • The Empire State Building in New York City is the most photographed building in the U.S. and North America at night, with 191 photos per 1,000 taken after dark.
  • Wells Cathedral in Somerset is the UK's most photographed building at night (142 per 1,000).
  • The Bank of China Tower in Hong Kong is Asia's most photographed building at night (281 per 1,000).

Extraordinary Dutch Market Hall is World's Most Photographed Building at Night

The Markthal in Rotterdam may not be the most photographed building in the world, but proportionally speaking, it is the most photographed at night by a significant stretch. Some 37% of the photos of this Dutch "market hall" are taken after dark. The market takes place under a huge, elongated arch, with shops, restaurants and apartments rising around the upturned U. This means that a number of the windows remain illuminated until late.

But the real night-time star here is the interior arch. It is decorated with an illuminated mural across 11,000 square metres of aluminium "with a resolution comparable to a glossy magazine." The Guardian calls it a "Sistine chapel of fresh produce."

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the unusual Markthal building is almost the only marketplace that figured among our findings. Among the top ten most photographed buildings at night, two are arts buildings, and two are legal or government buildings, plus a monument, a palace, a hotel, a cathedral and a television transmitter. Half of the top ten are in Europe, four in Asia and one in the U.S.

Two of the top ten are in Copenhagen, Denmark, where the sun sets at 3:30 p.m. during the winter. The city hosts an annual 'Light Festival' each February, highlighting Copenhagen's night-time beauty and augmenting it with temporary light installations.

The Buildings we love to Photograph at Night

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Besides the Markthal, one other marketplace makes our map - but it's very different. Kraków's Cloth Hall (Sukiennice) was built in the 14th century for a bustling trade between international textile merchants. Following a fire, the hall was rebuilt in the Renaissance style in the 1500s, with arcades added in the 19th century. Today, the arcades give the impression of a bustling beehive, particularly when illuminated at night; filigrees and other stone flourishes further catch the light and stir the imagination. There is a museum upstairs, but visitors can still buy crafts and souvenirs from the stalls of "Europe's oldest shopping centre" on the ground floor.

UK Cathedral Among Europe's Prettiest Night Buildings

The most night-photographed European buildings are shot at night at a higher rate than our top finds in Asia and North America, on average. In addition to the world number one, Rotterdam's Markthal, we found four European buildings where more than one in five photos are taken after dark. At one of these, Mole Antonelliana in Italy, more than a quarter of photos are taken after night has fallen.

The Buildings we love to Photograph at Night

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Mole Antonelliana in Turin has led a multifaceted life. Designed as a synagogue, the structure was transferred to city ownership before construction was completed and became a monument and museum to the unification of Italy. Today, it is home to the National Museum of Cinema, and the cine-like projected lights on its dome make it a real attraction for late-night photographers. The building's intricate brickwork, Alpine backdrop and panoramic views further boost Mole Antonelliana's status as a must-see for photographers visiting the city.

The Buildings we love to Photograph at Night in the UK

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Most of the UK's night-time superstars were originally built centuries ago. They have taken on new nocturnal life as electric up-lighting highlights the detail of their gothic, baroque or Victorian styles. In fact, the oldest UK building to make the top ten is also the UK's most photographed at night overall. Construction of Wells Cathedral in Somerset began in 1175, and the cathedral remains surrounded by countryside today so that its sheer floodlit front stands in timeless repose against the endless night sky.

Shakespeare's Globe is a twentieth-century reconstruction of the original 1599 amphitheatre. Its open roof in the round offers unique images of the night sky. The Globe also benefits from its position on the Thames amidst the reflected light and silhouettes of more modern buildings, such as The Shard —another night-time favourite of photographers.

Empire State Building is North America's Most Photographed Building After Dark

The Empire State Building in New York City is the North American building we most love to photograph at night, and by a considerable margin. While the tower's Art Deco outline can't help but recall the imagery of Batman - which demands a night-time aesthetic - it is a more upbeat detail that attracts photographers: the tower lights. Since 1976, the colour of the lights has changed nightly to mark special dates and occasions, and in 2012 the lights were upgraded to "a state-of-the-art LED lighting system, capable of displaying more than 16 million colors."

The Top-10 Buildings we love to Photograph at Night in the North America

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Seven of the ten most photographed buildings after dark are in the U.S., but Canadian buildings take second and third place. Vancouver's Science World offers colourful LED lighting in a quite different format to the Empire State, covering a 17-storey geodesic dome.

At night, the dome has the photogenic properties of a celestial body, moon-like against the distant stars and a more terrestrial phenomenon reflected on the waters of False Creek. One photographer recommends capturing Science World during the "blue hour." "[T]his is the hour or so after the sun has set," says Clayton Perry. "The sky still maintains its blue colour and you are able to capture this along with the lights of the city and this photogenic landmark."

Modern Asian Towers Dominate Night-time Photography

Nearly every top Asian building for night photography was built in this century or the last. The exception, among the top ten, is the National Museum of Singapore. The museum moved to its present premises, a "neo-classical building with a new modernist extension of glass and metal," in 1887. The museum is a regular star of both the Light to Night Festival and Singapore Night Festival, with animated light shows dancing across the complex's various anachronistic surfaces. More than a quarter of the photos taken here are captured at night.

The Top-10 Buildings we love to Photograph at Night in the Asia

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By contrast, the Asian building we most love to photograph was completed in 1990 and was, at the time, the continent's tallest building: the Bank of China Tower in Hong Kong. As a "faceted prism […] clad in reflective glass that mirrors the changing sky," the building also reflects the lights of the surrounding towers. However, it may be Bank of China Tower's own distinctive criss-cross lighting effect that draws photographers after dark.

Night and the City

Architecture is the art of space and light: a little helping hand from dramatically arranged nocturnal illumination can bring out the uniqueness of an imposing structure. Of course, too much light in the wrong neighbourhood can be conceived as light pollution, washing out the stars and disrupting sleep, which may be one reason that many of the nocturnal big-hitters in our study are at the heart of a big city's cultural or banking area rather than in a more residential area.

Building in a residential area requires its own approach. But thankfully, gallons of light are not an architect's only recourse to a powerful night-time building. Mystery, reflection, quietness and nature can also give a building its charismatic presence after dark. Whether photographers will flock, moth-like, to such a building is another question.

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To determine the buildings people love to photograph at night, we reviewed keyword data on over 10 million photos on Flickr. Buildings were ranked based on the number of photos tagged with the name of the building + the keyword "night" per 1,000 photos of that building on the site.

For example, the number of night-time photos of the Eiffel Tower would be the number of search results returned for the query "Eiffel Tower night." We considered the 6,000 most popular buildings around the world, as determined by repeated Google searches of specific countries plus the keyword "famous buildings."

This data analysis is correct as of October 2023.

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